The current backlash against Bob Jones ignores that his views have been encouraged by a corporate media that shares his political values.
BOB JONES IS in the firing line for a particularly 'insensitive' column. Even by Jones' own low journalistic standards it is a shocker - but the National Business Review had difficulty recognising that and published his column anyway. It was only when the proverbial hit the fan did they pull it down. Now there is an on line petition demanding that the government strip Bob Jones of his knighthood which was given to him by the fourth Labour Government in 1989. Last time I looked, it had some 48,000 signatories.
While what Bob Jones says can often be obnoxious, he is but the tip of an unedifying iceberg. His views have risen - and prevailed - out of a op-ed quagmire which has, more often than not, championed the very same kind of views that Jones has expressed over the years.
Jones' strident and belligerent defence of neoliberal capitalism and his attacks on the victims of neoliberalism have been mirrored by a long list of other columnists over the years. Two contemporary columnists that spring to mind are Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking and TV3's Duncan Garner. There is a probably not a minority group that Hosking hasn't attacked while Garner was, just a few months ago, expressing concern about the number of non-white people who were standing in a queue with him. He was voted Canon Columnist of the Year.
Opinion journalism has mushroomed in recent years because of the growth of the Internet and also by efforts of the traditional media to remain commercially viable. Why bother with longer form and more expensive journalism when you can pay someone a whole lot less to bash out 800 words or so on a regular basis? Looking at some of the work of some of the columnists being published in the corporate media today, you don't necessarily have to know what you're talking about either. Ignorance is not a barrier.
But the expansion of op ed has not been met with an expansion of political views. A remarkable political uniformity continues to prevail. While members of The Commentariat might disagree on specific issues they all share, like Bob Jones, a belief in the primacy of 'the market' and angrily denounce attempts to challenge the political status quo. So when someone like Rachel Stewart of the NZ Herald dares to suggest that New Zealand's 'representative democracy ' is a sham and has failed, she finds herself on the receiving end of a 'telling off' from another columnist, Chris Trotter, for not toeing the line.
The irony is that while the media can largely embrace views of someone like Bob Jones - unless there is a big public backlash - it is a whole lot less welcoming to anyone who might want to challenge the economic and political status quo and thinks change is about more than which political party or parties get to manage the capitalist economy for a while.
Back in 1913 the founders of the New Statesman, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, believed that sincere political writing could move hearts and change minds and help to bring about political and economic change.
But the reality in 2018 is something else altogether. It is easier to wield that power in favour of the political establishment. It is easier to attack those who don't accept that status quo. It is easier to pander to prejudice and bigotry by attacking Maori, immigrants, beneficiaries, the poor, solo parents and, oh yes, socialists and left wingers generally.
But it is also easier to get all morally indignant about Bob Jones rather than focusing on the malaise of the corporate media that spawned him and that panders to the political establishment and excludes the opinions of those who are likely to not only attack the prevailing neoliberal consensus but suggest that there is an alternative.